Building Trauma-Informed School Systems
As a middle school teacher, I counted strong relationships with my students as key to building a safe and supportive learning environment. Many had experienced homelessness, abuse, war, and suicide ideation and trusted me enough to relate these experiences. My teacher preparation coursework had not prepared me for the secondary traumatic stress (STS) that followed. In my sixth year of teaching, I received a two-hour training on how adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) manifest in the classroom that made me both more empathetic and less likely to internalize student trauma. But it came too late in my career, after I had made up my mind to leave the profession.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines STS as “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.” Symptoms are similar to those from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which include withdrawal in the workplace and spillover effects into personal and family lives. STS has been studied more extensively in social workers and emergency responders. However, teachers spend more than 30 hours per week with students and are sometimes the most trusted adults outside the immediate family. Teachers working with students at a higher risk of experiencing ACEs, such as economic hardship, discrimination, or community violence, are more likely to experience STS. “Untreated STS may be among the hidden causes of undesirable workforce turnover for principals and teachers,” writes Hal A. Lawson and fellow researchers, “particularly when STS and children’s trauma are clustered in high-poverty schools.” …
This publication is supported by cooperative agreement CDC-RFA-PS18-1807, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.